Commentary on dating apps follows a familiar theme, presenting them as encouraging shallowness, objectification, and STIs while creating a generation incapable of intimacy. Depending on just how judgmental the author is, these features may be presented as civilization-ending threats or merely sad. Unfortunately for the authors of these articles, these claims bear little relationship to the truth, at least in Switzerland – although that's unlikely to stop them being written.
Dr Gina Potarca of the University of Geneva examined a study of Swiss couples who met in the last ten years. Relevant questions included how they met, their plans for the future, and their satisfaction with the relationship. As noted in PLOS ONE, this fills a gap in knowledge on the topic since previously; “Surveys that measured where couples met have been scarce, and when such data existed, the sample of couples formed through dating apps was usually small.”
Dr Potarca distinguishes between traditional online dating sites – even if they now have app versions – and pure apps like Tinder and Grindr. Websites have users provide extensive information about themselves and show matches largely on that basis, while apps are based on proximity, with users showing initial interest largely based on photographs with much less detailed information in text form.
It's certainly plausible that a medium where photographs, rather than biographies, dominate the decision on whether to initiate contact wouldn't be great for long-term compatibility. However, that is not what Potarca found.
After controlling for factors such as age, religious belief, previous relationships, and urban/rural location, Potarca found no significant difference in relationship satisfaction between those who met their partner on or offline. Dating websites that match for compatibility did come out ahead of other ways of meeting on this measure, be they apps or through friends or hobbies. Nevertheless, apps were not significantly worse than any of the other main alternatives.
Nor was there any sign those who met via app were looking for something shorter term. The app contingent were just as likely to express an intention to marry as their counterparts, and were actually keener to move in together.
In an even bigger blow to stereotypes, women who met their partner via app were more likely to say they planned to have a child in the near future than those who met through any other method, although the fact their male partners were less keen might signal trouble down the track.
One big difference between app-forged relationships and those initiated in other ways emerged, however. Apps create much more social mixing, for example between partners of different levels of education. This is one of the few features revealed by previous studies on the topic, which have also shown apps lead to more interracial couples.
"Knowing that dating apps have likely become even more popular during this year's periods of lockdown and social distancing, it is reassuring to dismiss alarming concerns about the long-term effects of using these tools," Potarca said in a statement.
Potarca didn't look at how often matches lead to long-term relationships, or what proportion of users wanted that. Naturally a study restricted to one country isn't necessarily globally representative, but it's probably more indicative of the situation in another country than an author's three app-using friends.